Life never reveals its loveliness to those who never stumble. Boris Pasternak said that the virtue of those who have never fallen or failed isn’t of much value. Their lives are lifeless. Educated Europeans of Columbus’ day knew that the world was round. Around 723 AD, Saint Bede the Venerable wrote in his “Reckoning of Time” that the Earth was orbed. In the 2nd century AD, Ptolemy had written a “Guide to Geography” describing a globular earth with one ocean connecting Europe and Asia. St. Isidore of Seville wrote in the 7th century that the earth was spherical. Columbus never set out to disprove that the earth was flat. His plan was titled the “Enterprise of the Indies”.

In his voyage to find a western ocean route to the fabled gold and spice lands of East Asia, Columbus mistakenly believed he reached India and called the people Indians. He was in the Bahamas. Never before has such a titanic mistake been celebrated by all. Lit by the slow fuse of the imagination, we continue to make this world. A world overflowing with beautiful imperfections and disruptions. The present pandemic is a once-in-a-century evidence fiasco. We lack reliable data on how many people are infected by variants of SARS-CoV-2 or who continue to become ill. Doubt drives exceptional lives. They make mistakes. Eventually they change the world. They are not lifeless. Galileo challenged the mistaken beliefs of the Church.

Like the Nataraja, standing on a lotus pedestal, lifting his left leg and trampling upon ignorance with his right foot, with a whirl of hair spreading out in thin strands as a fan behind his head as he holds a ring of flames in one hand and a drum in the other, we thrive in Schumpeter’s gale of creative destruction. Burning away fragments of old metaphors and constellations of beliefs and practices in a halo of flames and drumming into being new tools, scientific theories and digital platforms in creative advance beyond the stubborn facts. What has not changed is that every disruption must be moderated, as in the past, by some inquisition. On March 25, the CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter have been summoned. What changes is the problem that the inquisition must probe.

How do we moderate public communication platforms like Parler, Discord and Facebook to ensure that they do not facilitate disinformation, human smuggling, misinformation, bad words and hate speech? Contrariwise, how do we foster social equality, democracy and allow liberty to flourish without censoring alternate views? Zuckerberg describes Facebook as a hybrid between a newspaper and a telecommunications company. Facebook has a financially independent oversight board that includes a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, a former Prime Minister of Denmark and a retired US Federal Judge. It has its own Supreme Court of Content. Where does this leave Small Island Developing States with a GDP that is less than the revenue of Facebook? Spotify’s revenue in 2017 exceeded Mauritania’s GDP. The revenue of Netflix in 2017 exceeded Malta’s GDP.

Facebook decided to restore news pages on its site in Australia under proposed new legislative amendments. Seventeen million users, swathes of media, government bodies and state health departments experienced an abrupt disruption of service before the national coronavirus vaccine rollout. The commotion followed months of negotiations between Rupert Murdoch and the Australian government. Zuckerberg unplugged Australia. He tussled the law and won. Recently, the “Stop the Steal” campaign on public communication platforms condensed into a deadly insurrection at the Capitol. Parler was deplatformed by Amazon Web Services after users live-streamed the Capitol rebellions. During the offline period, Parler implemented algorithmic filtering for a few content types, including threats and incitement and a “trolling” filter. Parler is back online with a new service provider but it is now a shadow of itself.

How do we moderate billions of fragments of shared content “at scale” across countries and continents?   Block Party and Spectrum Labs call this the “prevalence problem”. Even if a tiny fraction of content is problematic on a platform, it can still reach millions of users. Yesterday, moderators reviewed content flagged by machine learning algorithms in chronological order. Now, content is sorted by the viral speed of spread. But, is that liberty? Algorithms are trained to snatch individual pieces of problematic content, but what they are blind to is the broader meaning of a body of posts. The context is key. The rules are not haphazard. Moderation and algorithms cannot diminish the First Amendment.

In 2018, Discord was used to orchestrate the Charlottesville riots. In 2021, Discord left behind its laissez-faire approach to moderation. Fifteen per cent of its total staff now work on trust and safety issues. This helped Discord to evade any participation in the Capitol invasion and to band chat groups associated with WallStreetBets during the GameStop stock runup. Moderation provokes objections. But not moderating is a flawed formula. The moderation agenda is an existential crisis. The decision to either refrain from action or withhold assent to a particular choice is, in itself, a choice. We are “condemned” to freedom. Free to live lives that are not lifeless.